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Drawing a line in the sand: voicing concern over the Keystone XL pipeline

“If you jump this fence, you will be arrested.”
“I understand that.”
“Is there anything I can say right now to prevent you from doing this?”
“No.”
This is how the many Canadians who risked arrest on Sept. 26 were greeted by RCMP officers on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. We too made the leap over the fence, risking arrest, risking a night in jail, risking fines, risking a criminal record and immigration difficulties. But we were not alone. We were joined by over 200 other protesters who had had enough of the Harper government and its staunch support of Alberta’s tar sands. We participated in a peaceful sit-in to prove a point: Canadians want a sustainable future, free from the destructive practice of extracting oil from the Canadian wilderness.
The day before the protest, the two of us woke up hungover and made the two hour trek to Ottawa. We arrived for the training session organized by the coalition group Ottawa Action, and learned what to do in the multitude of various scenarios we might face the following day. We were preparing for the worst.
On the day of the protest we arrived, slightly nervous, but with no intention of backing out. We proudly wore our green armbands signifying we would risk arrest, and raised and shook our homemade rally signs. We were two women in a motley crew of other concerned citizens, some young, some old, some English, some French, hailing from all over the country.
We were united in our efforts to put an end to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Musicians from affected First Nations communities drummed and sang, setting a celebratory and determined tone to our action, while reminding us of the direct impact this environmental catastrophe has had on their way of life.
The energy level was high, as the crowd waited in anticipation for the first few waves of protesters to cross the symbolic divide between us and the Parliament Buildings. Finally, our group reached the fence, hand in hand, and crossed. After crossing, a group of us headed down the line of seated protesters where we were greeted with encouragement and thanks for our participation.
As students and young Canadians, the experience of participating in such a large act of civil disobedience alongside many of our elder companions was inspiring. We were reminded that the ideals of how our country should never die, and how intoxicating it is to stand up for what you believe at all costs.
Shutting down the Keystone XL pipeline proposal is of paramount importance in reestablishing Canada as a proponent of alternative energy. The process of extracting oil from the tar sands has contributed to earning Canada a place in the top ten producers of greenhouse gases internationally. Canadian wilderness, Aboriginal communities in western Canada, and important resources are threatened by the tar sands. This must be put to an end. A government owned by oil corporations and blinded by greed isn’t up to the task of procuring jobs for the people, or of maintaining healthy food and water standards for families. The government is not respecting the population by recklessly supporting expansion of the tar sands. Therefore, people should no longer respect the government until changes are made. Simple as that.
In the end, not everyone risking arrest was arrested, but 117 were charged. Those charged received a $65 trespassing ticket and a one-year ban from Parliament Hill. Admittedly, the media response was disappointing. The protest was deemed “very Canadian” in the sense that it was orderly and friendly. This criticism was contrary to what Harper said about the protests, calling those involved “extremists.”
Both criticisms are inaccurate. What we have left at the end of this act of civil disobedience is a sense of accomplishment and renewed fervour to face the large hurdle that lies ahead. “People over profits” was repeated many times at the protest.
The Harper government has made it clear by approving the Keystone XL pipeline that they are choosing to only respond to rich oil company lobbyists instead of ordinary Canadian citizens. The government needs to get its priorities straight, before it’s too late.

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